India and Myanmar Junta Using Rakhine Truce to Finalize Trade Corridor

By The Irrawaddy 5 December 2022

New Delhi is using the informal truce between Myanmar’s military regime and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State to finalize its mega transport project linking the two countries.

Indian Consul Jay Krishna met junta-appointed Rakhine State chief minister Dr. Aung Kyaw Min for talks on the India-backed Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project on Friday, just days after the ceasefire began.

The transport project, which is considered crucial for New Delhi’s ambitious Act East Policy, has been delayed partly by the fighting between junta forces and the AA, an ethnic armed organization that operates in Rakhine and parts of Chin State along the border with India and Bangladesh.

At Friday’s meeting, the two sides discussed the official opening of Sittwe’s seaport and its Kaladan River route inland through Rakhine’s Kyauktaw to Paletwa in Chin State.

They also discussed the incomplete section of the project — a two-lane highway running 109 kilometers from Paletwa to Zorinpui on the Myanmar-India border that passes through rugged terrain and a conflict zone.

The sea-river-road transport route will be used to ship cargo from India’s eastern ports to Myanmar, as well as to the landlocked northeastern region of India through Mizoram. It will link Kolkata with Sittwe Port over the Bay of Bengal.

Widely viewed as New Delhi’s bid to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Kaladan project was initiated some 12 years ago but has since stalled. The latest schedule for completion is next year.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra called for swift implementation of the Kaladan project in his meeting with Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on Nov. 21 in Naypyitaw. The world’s largest democracy has been forging tighter ties with Myanmar’s dictatorship. Min Aung Hlaing has also received India’s ambassador to Myanmar Shri Saurabh Kumar in Naypyitaw.

As well as diplomatic support, New Delhi has also offered to help the junta organize what it calls an election next year. The plan has been rejected by UN representatives, the US and others as an attempt to legitimize military rule and achieve Min Aung Hlaing’s long-held ambition to become president.

While China is traditionally viewed as the biggest foreign friend of Myanmar’s military dictatorships, India has been escalating its engagement with the junta since last year’s coup.

India has become the second-most popular country for visits by Myanmar junta officials and military officers, after Russia.